Tuesday, December 2, 2008

7 Random (and Sorta Weird) Facts About Me


Right before the Thanksgiving holiday,Miriam Salpeter tagged me for this meme, but I was rushing out the door for time with family, so I'm just getting around to playing along. Here goes:

1. I know firsthand the pain of layoffs. When I was a college senior, my Dad was laid off from a job he'd had for more than 20 years. The refinery employing more than 900 people closed, devastating my small town. I managed to piece together some scholarship money to finish the last year of school. My Dad, 10 months from retirement, lost his entire pension. For the next several years, he ran a gas station to make ends meet.

2. I hate wooden spoons. And popsicle sticks. Just writing about them makes the hairs stand up on my arms.

3. I had a '72 Cutlass when I was in high school. I now kick myself for getting rid of it whenever I watch those muscle car auctions on television. Who knew that today some fool would pay $7 million for it?

4. I've never had writer's block. Go ahead, hate me.

5. I never get tired of interviewing people. Being paid to be snoopy? Heaven.

6. I once had a woman write me a letter about her miserable career, and say she wanted to kill herself. I immediately called the local authorities. I never did find out what happened, but I think of her often whenever I write workplace stories. I know that people often are truly in a lot of pain.

7. I love turtles. During the summer, when they seem to want to cross the road all the time, I'll pull my car over, get out, pick up a turtle and carry it to the other side of the road so it doesn't get run over. I can tell you I don't do the same for armadillos or possums. They're on their own.

Here are the people I'm tagging for this meme:

Marsha Keeffer

Robyn McMaster

Ian Tang

Virginia Backaitis

Dan McCarthy

Diane Danielson

Lindsay Olson

Here are the rules for my fellow bloggers:

• Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog.

• Share seven facts about yourself in the post - some random, some weird.

• Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.

• Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs and/or Twitter.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What You Can Learn from a Turkey Buzzard About Striking Out on Your Own

I often describe my job these days as being a turkey buzzard.

This is not something I am proud of. Well, maybe. A little bit.

That's because at a time when journalists are being laid off by the hundreds and the freelance writing market sometimes resembles a sweatshop operation, I have managed to survive.

How? I've learned to take what others might term "road kill" and turn it into a pretty decent meal. And you can do the same with your career.

First, in order to become a turkey buzzard, you've got to learn to see the beauty and possibility of a bird that scares the bejeesus out of most people, or at least invokes a shudder. My friend, Kathryn, at Plant Whatever Brings You Joy, once wrote a wonderful piece about these birds. I thought she was kinda crazy, but then I decided that maybe there was a lesson in there for me.

The lesson was this: Sometimes what looks ugly on the surface can really be pretty cool once you open your mind to other possibilties.

We all like to think that we're going to get the biggest piece of pie, the best promotion, the corner office or the juicy pay raise. But sometimes our careers don't always go as planned, and before we know it, we're staring at a dead carcass, known as our job.

That's where the turkey buzzard mindset comes in. Instead of seeing a dead career, you look at it from a buzzard's point of view and see.... opportunity.

In this tough economy, with industries undergoing great upheavals and more people facing layoffs and downsizings, it's the person who creates something from what others see as nothing that will survive.

So, let's talk about ways to prepare for the day you need to be a turkey buzzard:

* Learn to pick through the bones. Many companies these days are streamlining operations, or cutting out services because they're too expensive. But if you see there's still real need for those services -- just on a more limited basis -- you can create an opportunity for yourself.

My first freelance job was for a financially struggling publisher where I had once worked. I approached them, outlining what I could do for them, and how I could hit the ground running because I was so familiar with their business. They took me up on it and I think it was a great solution for everyone. It gave me a steady stream of income while I got the rest of my business underway, and they were able to get a qualified writer for less money that a fulltime writer, and didn't have to pay benefits.

So, if you are let go from an employer, consider if there is a service at your company that is being cut because it is too expensive and too far-reaching -- but you could provide it on a limited scale for less money. The employer would be more willing to contract with an employee familiar with the operation, whether it's coaching services provided by a departing manager, or a laid off worker becoming a virtual assistant.

* Look for hidden goodies. What others may ignore because they believe it's not worth the effort is a golden opportunity for you. The project that was ditched because no one had the time to devote to it, or the difficult (but lucrative) client that was avoided are just the kinds of challenges you can take on when you're on your own.

I don't know how many times I've heard people say: "I can't believe my employer doesn't see this opportunity. We could make lots of money on it, but there's too much red tape."

That's exactly where you come in. You've seen those chances for growth and can now go after them without being hampered by long chains of command and paperwork that would put the IRS to shame. Another advantage is that many times these opportunities are with people you've already met through your former job, so your path should be smoother when you pitch them your idea.

* Gather strength from the rest of the buzzards. Just look at the blogosphere to see the number of bloggers who have joined forces to create powerhouse destinations. These are people who have learned that combining the different talents of various people makes their product stronger. When you decide to create something new, make sure you maintain a strong network. Many of those strong connections will be from your former employer, possibly others who are looking to grasp a new opportunity.

* Scope out new territory. While the pickings at your former employer may be great, don't fall into the trap of only getting your meal from one source, or feeling like you owe them more than anyone else. Former employers can provide a good way to get your new venture off the ground, but you've always got to be scavenging for new sources of income and protecting what you've created.

Do you have a plan in place to propose to your employer should you lose your job?
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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Keep Job Desperation Under Control

When interviewing for a job, most people get a little nervous. And if you’ve recently been laid off or fired from your last position, that fear may escalate since recruiters and companies tend to avoid anyone who seems even the least bit desperate.

But there is a way to help set aside those prejudices and put a positive spin on the fact that even though you're currently without work, you're still a viable candidate for a position.

If you have been fired: Present the logic of how your "de-hiring" (being fired) happened in four or five sentences. You should at all costs avoid saying that you were "fired" since interviewers tend to not hear anything else once that word has been said. Instead, say that you left by "mutual agreement", and never sound defensive or cast blame.

If you've been laid off: Be honest. There will be a certain degree of understanding from the interviewer since it has become more common across all industries. Again, avoid sounding bitter or resentful toward the company or management. You can tell an interviewer that you received a terrific severance or buyout package that you decided to accept -- if that is what happened.

The key to putting a positive spin on either being fired or laid off is to tell an interviewer that you used the time to pursue additional education, or that you used it as family time to reassess your life and carefully plan your future. By expressing these actions as real acts of courage -- that it's often difficult to look ahead but you did it -- then you give the interviewer an impression of strength.

Further, make sure you tell the interviewer how taking these actions brought improvements, such as furthering your education or having meaningful time with your family that helped crystalize your future plans.

Finally, make sure that you are well-prepared to answer questions from an interviewer by practicing with a family member or friend, or even videotaping yourself to look for areas of improvement. Always have specific examples that demonstrate how you've used your skills to handle situations on the job or at home, and make sure you end the interview with a positive statement.


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